Drowning in the Backwash

Lest we forget, Wisconsin is holding its primaries today, and in the marquee race Republicans will choose a Senate nominee for one of those contests that will determine control of the Upper Chamber next year. Between this year’s earlier recall election and the fresh excitement over Paul Ryan’s unexpected ascension to the national ticket, the four GOP Senate candidates are gasping for breath.

Longtime front-runner and a rare survivor from the 1990s era of Republican governors who did some actually governing, Tommy Thompson has had to aggressively flip-flop from his earlier support for an individual mandate for health insurance, aggravated by positive remarks he made about early versions of the Affordable Care Act and his close relationships with health care industry companies that supported ACA. What’s kept Thompson in the race is divided conservative opposition, largely split between right-wing warhorse and former congressman Mark Neumann and self-funding businessman John Hovde. Nuemann’s being backed by the formidable combination of the Club for Growth (which has channeled nearly $2 million into Wisconsin ads) and Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservative Fund, while Hovde has spent over $5 million of his own money and has been endorsed by FreedomWorks.

The latest poll in the race, from PPP, shows very nearly a three-way tie, with yet another candidate, state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, sporting a bit of a late surge. Thompson is the only Republican prospect who has on occasion registered a lead in polls over certain Democratic nominee Rep. Tammy Baldwin. But he’s also the only candidate with a net negative favorability rating among undecided primary voters.

If ol’ Tommy loses, you can put him in the column as yet another victim of the GOP’s steady rightward lurch, which he’s tried to accommodate, but perhaps not rapidly enough.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.